The Constant Charmer

The inside story of how the world's biggest rock star mastered the political game and persuaded the world's leaders to take on global poverty. And he's not done yet

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One way to get leaders to keep a $50 billion aid commitment is to protest in the streets. Another is to show them that aid has a logic. The schedule for the day is relatively low wattage; no world leaders, no movie stars, just discussions with academics and development experts at Harvard and M.I.T. who might feed DATA good policy ideas and catalytic facts. At Harvard, Bono is greeted by president Larry Summers, an early Bono skeptic while Treasury Secretary under Clinton but now a true believer. (It is something to see the president of Harvard greet a rock star with a soul hug and a "Hey, man, what's up?")

After lunch with professors and vague talk about collaborations down the road, Bono and his team head off to M.I.T. to meet with the Poverty Action Lab, a new group that specializes in objective modeling, one of Bono's turn-ons. Michael Kremer, a Gates (as in Bill and Melinda) Professor of Developing Sciences, opens with an example of the kinds of problems the lab examines: Why don't poor children go to school? Health, it turns out, is a major factor. One quarter of the world's children have worms. Treating them costs only $3.50 a student. "So you treat every kid, and in areas where you do that, school absences fall by 25%. They fall in neighboring schools too," says Kremer, "because the worms don't spread. It's a fantastically good buy." Erin Thornton, DATA's policy director, asks how the lab directs its research. It doesn't, and that's why the lab is interested in finding partners who can offer guidance and channel the studies to decision makers.

Finally Bono can't restrain himself. "Do you know we've been chased down hallways with the words 'measurable results'? What you have here is the stuff that can change the world! What we need to do ..." and for a minute he is off. There are rhythmic pauses between his phrases, some of which have been rounded smooth by dozens of similar meetings, while others are hitting the air for the first time and are charged with tension. The overall effect is musical. Bono is taking a room filled with economists, mathematicians and policy experts and levitating it. When he finishes, the room hovers in silence for a moment. Then there is laughter, as if everyone had just got off an amusement-park ride. "Facts," he says, "are very beautiful." But only Bono can make them sing.

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